Mandela in final push for Burundi peace deal

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The Independent Online

Nelson Mandela, engaged in what sceptics say is a doomed attempt to end ethnic killings in Burundi, is determined that all parties in fighting will sign an historic peace deal in Tanzania next Monday, his spokesman said yesterday.

Nelson Mandela, engaged in what sceptics say is a doomed attempt to end ethnic killings in Burundi, is determined that all parties in fighting will sign an historic peace deal in Tanzania next Monday, his spokesman said yesterday.

Admitting that the talks, which in recent days have shifted to Pretoria, are "volatile", the spokesman Jakes Gerwel nevertheless insisted that a threat yesterday by Burundi's main Hutu rebel group not to sign the deal was not an indication that it had been scuppered.

"We are determined the signature will happen in Arusha in the presence of Bill Clinton and British and French ministers," Professor Gerwel said. The fighting has claimed 200,000 lives in the past seven years.

A 140-page "proposed accord for peace and reconciliation", drawn up by Mr Mandela's aides and obtained by The Independent, envisages a transition to representative democracy which is modelled on South Africa's shift from minority to majority rule. However, the 19 interested parties and groups shuttling in and out of the South African capital this week still have not agreed on several constitutional principles, the workings of a ceasefire and methods of implementing the peace agreement.

Burundi's history has been marked by genocide, coups and increasingly polarised positions ever since the small mountain kingdom's independence from Belgium. Rivalry between the Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority has worsened by the year since 1962, when independent Burundi's first elected prime minister, Prince Louis Rwagasore, was assassinated by political rivals. The prince was a mwami - from a Tutsi royal group which had historically managed to keep the peace between the élite minority and the Hutus. His death set the scene for bitter fighting which might have ended in 1993 with the election of Melcior Ndaday, a Hutu. However, he too was murdered, leading to the present round of fighting between Hutu insurgents and the Tutsi-dominated army.

Yesterday in Brussels, a spokesman for Burundi's main Hutu rebel group, the CNDD-FDD, said it would not turn up next Monday for the peace signing in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha. "We can't sign an agreement in which we have never been involved," the spokesman said.

But Mr Gerwel said the CNDD-FDD was "in the loop" in a way in which it had never been under the chairmanship of Mr Mandela's predecessor in the peace talks, the Tanzanian leader, Julius Nyerere, who died last year. Indeed, at the talks in Pretoria this week, representatives of the CNDD-FDD are typically in a different room from the main parties but are briefed at regular intervals.

Talks to end the conflict began in Arusha in June 1998 but the CNDD-FDD leader, Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, only attended for the first time last month. He wants the release of 11,000 prisoners and the total closure of "regroupment" camps for Hutus before playing a full part in talks. Nevertheless, he has stated the will abide by any ceasefire agreement.

Mr Gerwel wants the Burundian president, Pierre Buyoya, to travel to Pretoria this week, so that "all the combatants can talk to each other". This, he hoped, would include the CNDD-FDD leader and would be am historic breakthrough.

Under the proposed accord, the ruling Tutsi would hand over to a democratically elected government in three years. In the run-up to elections, the country would be run by a transitional authority. An international commission of inquiry would investigate human rights crimes since independence and a truth and reconciliation commission would be created.

The parties meeting in Pretoria still have not agreed who will head the transitional authority, though Mr Mandela could well insist President Buyoya do so. Even though his appointment would be unpopular with Hutus, it would be welcomed internationally and, under the accord, would make him ineligible for office at the end of the transition. Even though President Buyoya, a Tutsi, has always come to power through coups he has succeeded in maintaining a moderate image and is respected internationally.

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